The following story is a parable meant to be used as an imaging tool. It’s not meant to give a spouse, who is ready to give up on a marriage. It is not an excuse to do so. It can however, give the abandoned spouse a better understanding as to why their spouse may have decided to leave their marriage when they did.
More importantly however, this parable is meant to be used as a “wake-up call” to those spouses who are asleep to the fact that they’ve been neglecting their family. And if they don’t come to that realization and do something to drastically reverse their neglectful behavior immediately —they may wake up one morning to find themselves alone without a family to care for and spend time with.
Read the following edited story with an open mind and heart as to what the author Andy Stanley is trying to tell those who think their family should keep understanding why they spend so much time away from them.
Pastor Stanley writes:
Use your imagination for just a moment. Imagine that your best friend walks up to you in your front yard one Saturday and asks you to do him a favor. You have some free time, and so you agree to do it. He walks over to his car, opens the trunk, and produces a thirty-pound rock.
Now here’s where you’re really going to have to use your imagination. At this point he hands you the rock and says, “I really need you to stand here with this rock until I return.” He explains why it’s important that you stand in that one spot with the rock and promises to return shortly to retrieve it. It’s a strange request, and his explanation doesn’t make a lot of sense, but this is someone you trust, so you agree. At this point he thanks you with extreme gratitude and then gets into his car and drives away.
An hour goes by. And what started out as a reasonable favor is beginning to get a little hard. But after all, this is your best friend, so you resign yourself to continue on and stand there. Another hour goes by and your arms are starting to ache. Everything in you wants to sit down, but you made a promise. Then suddenly, to your relief, your friend pulls in the driveway, jumps out of the car, and runs in your direction. You’re so relieved. If you weren’t holding the rock, you’d hug him.
But your joy is quickly crushed. Instead of relieving you of your burden he says, “I told you I was coming right back. But I need to run one more quick errand. If you’ll keep holding the rock, I’ll make it up to you when I return.” Once again, you trust that what you’re told is true. If your friend needs to run one more errand before relieving you that is just the way it is. So you agree. As he turns to go you can’t help but yell out, “Please hurry.” Off your friend goes and there you stand.
More Time Passes
Another hour goes by. The sun begins to set. Your muscles are aching to be able to drop the rock. But you refuse to give in. You’re committed to holding up your part of what you promised. Besides, your friend said he’d make it up to you. You aren’t sure what that means, but it must be something good. Thirty minutes later a car pulls up in the driveway. Someone you don’t know is driving. This person walks over and informs you that your friend has been delayed. “Would you mind holding the rock for just a little while longer?” he asks.
You experience a mixture of pain and anger. You manage to mutter, “Just tell him to hurry.”
Away the person goes and there you stand. It’s dark now. The streets are empty. The neighbors are at their windows watching you stand there, wondering why you’d put up with being treated like that by a “friend.”
Another hour goes by. You begin to lose your grip. Your arms begin to fall. You tell yourself to hold on, but your body just won’t respond. Down goes the rock. And just as it hits the pavement and breaks into a hundred pieces, your friend pulls up in the driveway. He jumps out of the car, runs over with a look of panic on his face, and says, “What happened? Did it slip? Did somebody knock it out of your hands? Or did you change your mind?” And as he looks for an explanation as to why you suddenly dropped the rock, you know that it was a long time coming.
Now let me explain what happened in terms that will help us later on. Your mental willingness was overcome by your physical exhaustion. You wanted to do what you were asked to do, but after awhile you just couldn’t do it anymore. Add to that the frustration of being misled about how long you’d have to stand there. But even if the aggravation is put aside, at some point you just weren’t going to be able to keep holding on. No amount of love, dedication, commitment, or selflessness was going to be able to make up for the fact that your arms were worn out.
Now, let’s add another element to that story: You’re about to pass out from exhaustion. And finally a car pulls up in the driveway. You’re so angry and in so much pain you know you’ll have to choose your words carefully. Sure enough, it’s your friend. He walks over slowly with one hand behind his back. He forces a smile and says, “I brought you something.”
Suddenly he brings out from behind his back a bouquet of flowers. At that point you don’t just drop the rock. You find within yourself just enough strength to throw it at him! As he ducks, he exclaims, “What was that all about? I bought you flowers, didn’t I?”
Now, I probably don’t need to apply my little parable. The meaning is pretty obvious. So at the risk of insulting your intelligence, let me be painfully specific:
• When we ask our husbands and wives to carry their load as well as ours, it’s like handing them a rock.
• When we’re absent at critical junctures in family life, they’re left holding the rock.
– When we find ourselves pointing to the future to somehow make up for the past and the present, they’re holding the rock.
• When we assure our families that things are going to change and they don’t, they’re holding the rock.
Love That Trusts
The interesting thing is that they always accept it. And why not? They love us. They trust us. Besides, we always reassure them that they’ll only have to hold it for a short time.
Everybody is willing to be “understanding” when a loved one needs to neglect the family as a top priority for a reasonable period of time. And in real life, taking time away from the family because of job responsibilities is sometimes unavoidable. But when they’re left to carry a load of neglect they were never created to carry in the first place—it’s just a matter of time before things will begin to unravel.
When It Takes Too Long
There’s a point at which that mental willingness isn’t enough to hang on. With a literal rock, mental willingness is eventually overcome by physical exhaustion. With an imaginary rock, mental willingness is eventually overtaken by emotional exhaustion. And when that happens, the rocks come tumbling down.
There’s always a final straw: a comment, a phone call, a tired explanation, a no-show, a forgotten birthday, or a missed game. Some little thing that pushes those we love past their ability to hold on. And to the uniformed, unsuspecting spouse —to the husband or wife who has lived with the fantasy that everything is just fine —it seems like a huge overreaction. They think: “All I said was.” “All I did was.”
But it wasn’t the moment, nor was it the phone call. It wasn’t the fact that the big hand on the clock was on the six instead of the twelve. It was weeks, months, or possibly years of waiting for things to change. The rock finally slipped out of their calloused hands.
It All Breaks Apart
When the rock drops, you’ll do everything in your power to pick it up and piece it back together. You’ll find the time to devote to fixing the problem. But in my experience, when the rock drops, there is always some permanent damage. Most rocks can’t be put back together again.
Do you know what your family wants from you more than anything else? They want to feel accepted. In practical terms, they want to feel like they are your priority.
“But they are my priority,” you might argue. That may be true. They may be your priority in your heart, but that’s not the point. They want to feel like your priority. It’s not enough for them to be your priority. They must feel like it.
I’ll never forget discussing this point with a very busy corporate vice president. He kept assuring me of how much he loved his wife and kids. Finally I interrupted him and said, “The problem is, you love your family in your heart, but you don’t love them in your schedule. They can’t see your heart —they only know your schedule.”
Too Much Time
Keep in mind that the chief indicator to your family of where you place your loyalty is time. It’s what you put on our calendar. Where you spend your time is an indication of where your loyalties lie. In effect, you pledge your allegiance to the person or thing that receives your time.
Are there time-consuming bridges you need to burn? Are there accounts at work you need to hand off? And are there some out-of-town meetings that need to be handled on the phone? Is there an offer you need to refuse? A promotion you need to give back? Once you’ve made up your mind to make your family more of a priority, it will become all too clear what stands in the way of your being able to focus on your commitment to re-prioritize.
So what is your non-negotiable? What does it look like? Does it mean leaving the office everyday at 5:30, regardless? Does it mean never missing one of your children’s performances or ball games? What does the commitment look like in your world?
Again promising to do “better” won’t get it. You’ve already done that. That terminology doesn’t even register with your family. They’ve heard that before.
This article came from the book, When Work and Family Collide: Keeping Your Job from Cheating Your Family written by Andy Stanley, published by Multnomah Publishers. As Dr John Maxwell says about this book (which we agree): “This is a life-changing book and extremely relevant to our modern way of life. Author Andy Stanley confronts us with truth and transparency. Just as he had made a commitment in his own life to balance his family time with his work, he encourages us to make similar commitments. One of the main reasons it is life changing is because a godly man who makes choices in his own life to never sacrifice his family for success has written it. If he wins the world but loses his family, what has he gained?
Every couple, every parent, and every leader needs to read this book and consider the question: Who wins when my family and work collide?” This book presents a strategic plan for resolving the tension between work and home. You’ll find ways to deal with the busyness that wreaks havoc with the relationships you consider most important.”